This week marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Van Halen’s epic album 1984. I could sit here and wax poetic about the greatness of each song, the unbelievable sales the album achieved, and how it played into the departure of David Lee Roth from the band. But that’s all been done so many times I’m afraid Google would laugh at me if I added another document like that to its search results. So here’s something a little more personal.
Van Halen’s 1984 is easily the largest brick in the foundation of my love for all things music. In fact, it might just be the entire foundation.
I was born in 1977, so Van Halen has been around almost as long as I have. But like most kids in that 7-8-9 year old range, my mid-80s music tastes were still pretty much limited to what my parents owned or what happened to come on the radio. I’m not entirely sure how much airplay Van Halen got in those days before 1984, but I either never heard it or never recognized it on the stations that dominated our house and cars. We listened to a lot of music, and we had a lot of records—just no Van Halen that I can recall.
Then my parents decided it was time to step out of the 70s and into the 80s and bought a portable stereo with a cassette player and tuner known in those days as a “boom box.” My dad also joined Columbia House, the music club catalog service that would send you new cassettes (or records, at that time) you chose every month, or a preselected hit album unless you told them not to. Back then I think the introductory offer was six for a penny or something like that. Anyway, I’m pretty sure by that time “Jump” and “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher” had made it through even our stereo speakers via popular radio, so that first shipment of cassettes included 1984.
I don’t know if it was fascination with the new medium or just a budding desire to listen to whatever new music came my way, but I listened to those first cassettes every chance I got. Eventually I would start building my own collection of music outside of the children’s records and random 45s I had scattered among my parents’ collection, and it was all cassettes. I still listened to a lot of the stuff my dad was now acquiring on cassette as well, but 1984 was always a go-to for me—so much so that, inevitably, the tape ended up in my collection permanently. I played the shit out of that thing, so much so that the white plastic yellowed and most of the screen printed track listings were rubbed down to mere ghosts of the black lettering they once were. I was in awe of Edward Van Halen’s guitar virtuosity, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony’s thunder, and David Lee Roth’s bravado. My love for Van Halen was off and running.
As I got older, friends turned me on to the new incarnation of VH with Sammy Hagar at the helm. By the time I started high school, I owned every Van Halen release on cassette. Not long after, I got my first CD player. I had evolved into full-fledged geekdom over Van Halen by then, so of course I re-bought every album on disc—but one of the first ones was, of course, 1984.
And then something happened that would change me and my music obsessions forever. At a friend’s house as a teenager—probably while I was preaching to my eye-rolling comrades about how great Van Halen was and/or how Eddie is the greatest guitarist who ever lived—my friend’s dad caught wind of my love for VH and said he had something I might like. He brought out a copy of 1984 on vinyl that was still partially in the original shrink wrap. He said he bought it when it first came out because he liked “Jump” but didn’t really care for the rest of the album, so it had been played once. I was in awe once again but, oddly enough, I couldn’t quite figure out why. At that point in the mid-90s, vinyl was nowhere near its resurgence. Records were the dusty old fossils parents brought out to reminisce about polyester days gone by. A child of the times, I had a respectable cassette collection that I was slowly pushing toward obsolescence by a growing CD collection. But this record immediately jumped out to me as a beautiful, pristine work of art and I had to have it. The black vinyl was so clean I could see myself in it. It even still smelled new. I think I gave him $10 for it; at the time, it probably wasn’t worth half that. But you can’t put a price tag on love at first sight.
Since that day, I’ve acquired about 1,000 records of varying condition and worth, both monetary and sentimental. But 1984 is still my most treasured record, and always will be. It was the first hit of a long, steady addiction to vinyl. Strangely, it’s not even my favorite Van Halen album musically. But as is true in every aspect of life, you never forget your first. And listening to it today still gives me that same flood of awe and wonder it did nearly 30 years ago and every day in between.